Welcome to the third installment of our weekly feature here at IndyCornrows, Stat of the Week. This feature, posted each Monday morning, focuses in on one statistic or number to recap and tell the story of the Pacers' performance for the previous week.
This week was a week of recovery and optimism for the Pacers. After going 0-3 in the first week of the preseason, the Pacers rebounded to win twice, beating Minnesota 98-86 and New Orleans, 101-98. Coach Jim O'Brien tightened up his rotation, the offense began clicking and shots started to fall.
For our third installment we will be focusing on Free Throw Rate. Free Throw Rate or FTR is the ratio of Free Throw Attempts to Field Goal Attempts (FTA/FGA). Because teams play at very different paces, looking at the simple number of free throws they attempt per game is not always the best way to judge their efficiency and effectiveness in attacking the basket. Free Throw Rate essentially accounts for pace by comparing the number of Free Throws Attempted to Field Goals Attempted.
The Pacers were much more effective on offense last week, pushing their Offensive Rating from 89.7 in the first three games to a 96.8 in the last two. However, they continued to struggle with turnovers, 39 in two games, and saw only modest increases in their shooting percentages. Their overall Field Goal Percentage was 42.3%, up from 39.0% in their first three games. Their 3PT% went up to 34.0% compared to 29.9% in their first three games. So if it wasn't lights out shooting or taking better care of the ball, where did this increase in offensive efficiency come from? The answer is the free throw line.
The Pacers posted a 0.311 Free Throw Rate in their first three games. This number was right in line with their 0.296 Free Throw Rate from last season, which was good for 14th in the league (League best last season was Denver at 0.376, League worst was Milwaukee at 0.239). Over the past two games Indiana posted a Free Throw Rate of 0.536. Essentially they shot two free throws for every four field goal attempts. So who was responsible for this marked increase?
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To put these numbers in context, the league average Free Throw Rate for an individual player last season was 0.295. Tops in the league was Dwight Howard at 0.98; but of players who played in 20+ games averaging 10+ minutes per game only 9 players (Howard, Chris Anderson, Reggie Evans, Tyson Chandler, Shelden Williams, Kwame Brown, Hasheem Thabeet, Corey Maggette and Jon Brockman) posted a Free Throw Rate higher than 0.60. Tyler Hansbrough was the Pacer with the highest Free Throw Rate last season, at 0.50.
The players who clearly deserve some credit for attacking the basket this week are Josh McRoberts, Roy Hibbert, Danny Granger and Mike Dunleavy. Even though his Free Throw Rate declined from the week before, Tyler Hansbrough also deserves some recognition for the still impressive 0.615 he posted this week. I'd also like to point out Paul George. Although his 0.158 Free Throw Rate is well below average, he played the first 3 games without attempting a single free throw. The game appears to be slowing down for him just a little and despite his ball handling limitations he was able to find some ways to use his athleticism to get to the basket.
Two games does not constitute a trend, but their performance the past two games is certainly good news for the Pacers. Hopefully, their offensive successwill act as positive reinforcement that they can score points running their sets, and most of all, that if they attack the basket they will get calls, and good things will happen. Hibbert's Free Throw Rate declined from his rookie season to last year, but hopefully his increased mobility and fitness level will allow him more opportunities to create shots moving towards the basket. This would seem to be a better place for him to draw fouls than static post moves. Granger and McRoberts have both seen their Free Throw Rates increase each of the last three seasons. For Granger especially, it will be important to maintain that commitment to offensive movement and finding ways to find shots at the basket and not just hang around the perimeter. For Tyler Hansbrough, drawing fouls appears to be a genetic predisposition and a skill he should have no problem maintaining throughout the season.
The Pacers have two more preseason games, against Minnesota on Tuesday and Chicago on Friday. The team will likely be without Danny Granger for both games as he nurses his sprained ankle and works towards being totally healthy for the regular season opener. Without Granger's outside shooting it will be especially important for the Pacers to continue to run their offense and attack the basket at every opportunity.
Rebound Percentage Update:
In the first installment of Stat of the Week we discussed Rebound Percentage and identified it as a season long focus, and bellwether statistic for the team. In their two preseason games this week the team posted an Offensive Rebound Percentage of 22.7% and a Defensive Rebound Percentage of 82.4%. This represented a terrific team effort on the defensive glass and was a big contributor in their successful week. The team's percentages for the preseason thus far look like this:
Offensive Rebound Percentage: 24.0%
Defensive Rebound Percentage: 75.3%